But at last freedom came to them, bringing new hope and promising a future rosy with visions of home and happiness. Never before had these men gone to the cotton-fields with such light hearts and quickened paces. Never before had they gathered around the humble hearthside to talk of coming years with gladsome voice and interludes of joyous song. Farms, homes, and the comforts of life danced before their excited fancy. The highest of their ambition was to acquire an education, to read books and papers, to become familiar with the thoughts of the good and the great in the present and past ages. The hope of becoming men and of being recognized as such among their fellows stirred their souls to the depth of their being.
But these anticipations were kindled only to quenched in untimely and violent death. The Ku-Klux watched their movements and haunted them in their dreams. They left them neither day nor night in the unmolested enjoyment of the blessings which God had given and their industry had acquired. Well directed labor and rigid economy had begun to bring their accustomed rewards to this household. But these virtues, which in other lands would have won respect and position, only awakened envy and malice among those around them. It was often said of them that they sold too much cotton, bought too much stock, had too much money, were far too independent; that if they continued in this way a few years they would get ahead of the white folks. But few had better credit in Augusta with the merchants of the city. And then, worst of all, they had books, and the young men had learned to read and to keep accounts. They were getting above their business and social position and must be taught to "know their place." Free "niggers" were dangerous unless they were made to respect white people. They were living at this time, in 1868, on the Brinkley plantation near Camac, in Warren County, Ga. This was their old home, Mr. Brinkley, brother-in-law of Judge Gibson, of Augusta, having been the owner of this family. By his kindness, forethought, and the just treatment of his former slaves he still held their confidence, and made it profitable both to himself and them to rent them the whole plantation. But neither his influence in the community nor interest in their welfare afforded protection in the time when that was most needed.
One Thursday night early in November the light had gone out upon the hearth, had in fact been put out earlier than was wont, books were laid aside, song was hushed, laughter suppressed, and conversation carried on in low tones or whispers, for warning had been given by a friend that the Ku-Klux had determined to make them "know their place." At the midnight hour one on watch peering out between the logs, of which the house was built, saw a person robed in white pass through the gate, and then another, and another, till a large company, having the feet of their horses muffled, had stolen in silently as the tread of death, and stood in ghastly array like ghosts from the regions of the lost. Hark! what was that? A flash, and the crack of shot-guns from within the house. The inmates had not been sleeping, but watching. These ghouls from the moon, or spirits of the Confederate dead, as they called themselves, were evidently sensible to powder and lead. One fell in mortal anguish, and three others were wounded. The fallen were quickly gathered up, and the regulators hastily withdrew.
Such audacity on the part of colored men had never been known before. Had they a right to defend their homes? The popular verdict was against them. The white people said emphatically, No! Black men had no rights which white men were bound to respect. They must be punished, aye, killed. To leave one alive, it was claimed, would be to invite insurrection and slaughter of the whites. They had killed a white man and the family must perish. Besides this, the one slain was a member of the Ku-Klux Klan, and by a law of that order any one who should kill, though in self-defence, or, as in this case, in the protection of home, one of their number, must be put to death, and all members of the order were under solemn obligations to assist, if called upon to do so, in inflicting this penalty. This law of the Ku-Klux was also in harmony with the sentiment of the people, and these "ghouls," as General Forrest says they were designated, were expected to execute the common behest. During the two nights following they prowled around what was once the home of Perry Jeffers, from which he and his six sons were compelled to flee because they had dared to defend themselves in this sacred retreat. Their lives had been declared forfeited by that act which in any other land, by any other people, would not only have been justified by the facts, but applauded as brave, chivalrous, and noble.
The week waned. The holy Sabbath dawned, but it was not a day of peace to the community, nor to the terrified fugitives hiding from the vengeance of their fellow-men like the frightened hare from pursuing hounds. At the church, around the fireside, and everywhere that neightbors met, the one topic of conversation was the Jeffers'. They must be hunted, punished, slain. Doxologies had been sung in the house of God and benedictions from the Father of Mercies solemnly pronounced in the name of the Prince of Peace upon those who were then swearing to wreak vengeance upon these flying, frightened freedmen. But no song, nor prayer, nor blessing, nor thought of mercy was indulged for them, who were in the greatest need of help and protection. In the darkness of night, like the lynx after its prey, the white-robed demons again surrounded the home of Perry Jeffers. He had not returned nor been seen in the neighborhood since the fatal night. Disappointed again, these human ghouls seized his helpless boy, dragged him from his bed out into the night, and shot him to death. They took also the aged and infirm mother - these were the only inmates found in the house - and with a bed-cord hung her to a tree in the yard. While this was being done, others took all of the articles of household furniture from the cabin, piled them upon the body of the dead boy and set them on fire, and by this light these so-called Christian men in this so-called Christian land retreated to their homes and to the enjoyment of peaceful slumbers.
The former master, Mr. Brinkley, living near by, ran to the aid of the old lady, cut the rope and saved her life, though at the cost of untold suffering and more intense anguish over her dead. Dr. Darden, of Warrenton, who was murdered in the following March, commenced an inquest over the charred body of this helpless victim, but as the facts were being evolved he was ordered by the Ku-Klux neighbors to cease. They said: "This thing has gone far enough; it must be closed up." Thus ended the investigation, and the half burned remains were buried by night in secret, where they await the resurrection of the just to confront in the great day the actors in these crimes.
Meanwhile Perry Jeffers and his six sons had fled to Warrenton, the county seat, and sought protection from the sheriff of the county, J. C. Norris, Esq., who had espoused the Union cause and was doing heroic work in behalf of the reconstruction of the State and in the maintenance of peace and order in society. There being no persons in the jail at the time, Mr. Norris kept them concealed there for several days till it became evident that the frenzy of the Ku-Klux was so great that they could not live in that section. It was decided to send them to South Carolina, and on the 9th of November, 1868, they were put on the train at Warrenton for Augusta, R. C. Anthony, agent of the Freedmen's Bureau, went with them four miles to the junction at Camac and put them on the train on the main line of road in the special care of the conductor. At Dearing, eighteen miles from Camac and twenty-nine miles from Augusta, on the Georgia Railroad, the place where Senator Adkins left the train when he was murdered, the father and five sons were taken from the car, at about twelve o'clock in the day, and shot to death, the perpetrators of the deed not being at the time disguised or in any way concealed. That was not necessary, as these willful and wicked murders were justified by the people on the ground that the Jeffers' had killed a white man who was a Ku-Klux. The youngest son alone escaped, and is left the sole representative of the family. Such was the boon of freedom to Perry Jeffers.
Before the Congressional Committee, Mr. Norris testified that this family were as "respectable colored people as you will find anywhere." Said he, "The old man was one of the most industrious men I ever saw. He was a good farmer and was making money." "Was there any charge against them?" asked Mr. Poland. "No charge in the world," was answered. "Was any thing pretended against them?" "No, sir, nothing was pretended that I ever knew. The former owner of this old man, Mr. Brinkley, said he was as good a man as he had ever seen in his life. When a slave he never had any trouble with him." Within a few months after this, shot-guns and revolvers were taken by force from colored men so as to make it safe for Ku-Klux to carry on their operations. This is one reason why they have done so little in self-defence.
The Invisible Empire by Albion W. Tourgee
Fords, Howard & Hulbert, New York, 1880, pages 460-465